Lynton & Barnstaple Railway

Lynton Station

The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway (L&B) opened as an independent railway in May 1898. It was a single track narrow-gauge (2ft) railway just over 19 miles long running through the rugged area bordering Exmoor in North Devon.

Following the opening of the Devon and Somerset Railway to Barnstaple, there were calls for an extension to serve the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, which were popular with holiday-makers. Through the middle of the 19th century, several schemes were proposed, from established railway companies and independent developers. One scheme suggested electric power, while another proposed a line from South Molton. None of these schemes offered sufficient prospects to encourage investment, and few got further than initial plans.

Due to the difficult terrain, one scheme suggested a gauge of 1 ft 11.5 in, already in use on the Ffestiniog Railway and elsewhere, to ease construction. This scheme was supported by Sir George Newnes who became chairman of the company. The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Bill was passed on 27 June 1895, and the line opened on 11 May 1898 with public service commencing on 16 May.

The scheme did not meet with universal enthusiasm. From the beginning there were doubts as to the intentions of the promoters. Although often attributed to the difficult terrain, many of the sinuous curves and deviations were due to resistance by local landowners along parts of the route.

Briefly, the line earned a small return for shareholders, but for most of its life, the L&B made a loss.

The L&B seldom attracted sufficient passengers to remain viable. The journey of nearly twenty miles took on average an hour and a half. To satisfy several influential residents, the terminus at Lynton was some distance from the town itself, and from the cliff railway to Lynmouth. Declining tourism during World War I, improved roads, increased car ownership further depleted the line's income until it was no longer economic.

In 1922 the L&B was taken over by the Southern Railway.

Despite numerous cost-saving measures and extra investment in the line, the Southern Railway was unable to reverse the trend, and closed the line. The last train ran on 29 September 1935. The Southern removed everything they could use elsewhere, and by 8 November, had lifted the track from Lynton to the Barnstaple side of Woody Bay station. On 13 November an auction was held, although the railway failed to attract much interest. Most rolling stock, and all but one loco, was sold for scrap and broken up at Pilton. Some coaches were sectioned for use as garden sheds. The remaining track was lifted by June 1936, and in September, the surviving loco was shipped abroad. The stations and track bed were auctioned in 1938.

Seventy years later, much of the line is still in evidence, including the old station building for Lynton at the top of Station Hill - now a combined private residence and holiday accommodation.

A group was formed in 1979 (now a charitable trust) to attempt to reopen the railway. In 2004 this was finally achieved with the opening of a short stretch of the line from Woody Bay Station, a few miles from Lynton. The line is now just under a mile long and has long term aspirations for expansion and possible eventual return to Lynton.